Beret Osmundsen arrives in a Denver police station in the spring of 1885, determined to discover who murdered her younger sister, Lillie. Beret is a strong woman, well-off and smart, and it doesn’t take long before she is working with Detective Mick McCauley in an effort to learn more about the last weeks of Lillie’s life. But the more the two delve into the grisly crime, the more secrets are revealed: not only was Lillie, once a pampered, privileged young woman, a prostitute when she was murdered, but she was also pregnant. While these details are shocking, it soon becomes evident that Beret herself has much to hide, as do her politically-minded aunt and uncle, with whom her she and her sister previously lived. Layer after layer is revealed until lives are laid bare and all is revealed.
Normally I love anything Sandra Dallas writes, but this one was, unfortunately, rather flat for me. In an attempt to show Beret’s strength and polish, Dallas writes her as stiff and aloof; I never warmed up to her personality so I never was particularly shocked by anything she exposed. The often stylized way of speaking (“And do you have proof of these foul accusations?”) seemed to be an unsuccessful attempt at recreating Austen’s work, and yet the words just do not feel natural. The mystery is fairly well done, with a number of red herrings and an eventual conclusion that, while not unexpected, is still fairly chilling. Even so, I had to force myself through because there was never anyone I felt like cheering on within any of the pages. For those, like me, who are used to a character-driven story from Dallas, this one is a disappointment.